It's a totally absurd notion that a cat and a bird would set out together on a long ocean voyage in a tiny boat with only a jar of honey to sustain them. But when Edward Lear wrote his Nonsense Verse, "The Owl and the Pussycat", 136 years ago, it was every bit as preposterous that any creature - animal or human - would travel from England to a tiny distant tropical island to get married on a beach. Yet that's exactly what the Owl and the Pussycat did. And that's what my daughter Alexandra and her fiance Andy decided to do three summers ago.
"The owl and the Pussycat went to sea, In a beautiful pea green boat."
For my daughter, the idea of a B.V.I. wedding had been hatching for a long time - maybe as long as 30 years. You see, Alex was born at Peebles Hospital in Road Town, on Mother's Day in 1973.
Alex lived in the B.V.I. until she was two, at which point, our family relocated to Toronto. In her brief time on Tortola she was never happier than when she was sitting covered from head to foot in sand on one of Tortola's glorious beaches. So when it came time to plan her own wedding, it seemed only natural that it should also take place on a small tropical island, preferably in the British Virgin Islands - and with a beach, so she could indulge in her favourite clothing eccentricity: shoelessness. Little Thatch Island seemed a perfect choice. It is small, easy to get to (a short boat ride from West End) beachy, and beautiful.
Alex had just started a business as a wedding planner and designer and, with a few successes in her resume, she felt it was time to take on the really big challenge: planning her own wedding. For a number of reasons, brides-to-be are usually advised against planning their own wedding. The bride should be able to maintain a healthy disinterest in the proceedings in order not to get flustered and impolite if anything goes wrong. There's plenty of time for that later in the marriage. The bride should be spending the time leading up to the wedding engaged in frivolous decisions like the colour of the bridesmaids' dresses, the reception menu and where to go for a honeymoon.
So it made sense that Alex should delegate responsibility. A friend in Toronto was charged with the task of picking out and picking up the wedding dress. Alex's mother, ensconced in Tortola, would look after the all-important food, music and drink. The details surrounding the choice of cake were left to a "cake guy." Alex would focus on the travel and accommodation plans for family and friends who would converge from Britain (where she now lived), Canada and the US. But the most critical aspect of the entire proceedings fell on my shoulders.
"Could you do me one, small, father-of-the-bride favour? Could you 'spearhead' the plans for Andy's stag day/night? It's just that he shouldn't really do it, and everyone else is virtually useless but they'll help. They just shouldn't be in charge!" (email from Alex, 17 June, 2004)
There were certain ground rules to be considered: some activities were encouraged, others not "just have a think about what you want to do. Drinking should be involved, obviously. But there are places where you can rent boats (and I think a captain) for the day, or you could do some sort of activity? Do guys do that? Andy doesn't like heights, by the way. So no parachuting-type stuff. And I'm not sure how he feels about dens of iniquity." (Alex, 18 June, 2004) So heights and depths were out. We decided that boating would be best, since most of the nine male participants, ranging in age from 11 (Alex's little brother Antony) to 70 (Andy's father Joe), enjoyed very different standards of physical activity and alcohol consumption. Boating appeared to provide the widest range of activity and inactivity. Since all the "pea-green" craft were out on charter, we settled on Robin Pinfold's white 50-foot catamaran, Kuralu. "I was thinking an afternoon of activity (and light drinking - which could include Antony) followed by an evening of more serious drinking - probably just in bars. At this point, Antony should be brought home." (Alex, 23 June 2004) The most exciting part of the bachelor party was seeing old friends, some I hadn't seen since I left the islands 30 years ago, and introducing my 11 year-old son to some of the life that I led years before he was born. As Kuralu rounded Tortola enroute to Jost Van Dyke, we encountered a pod of dolphins playing in the water - something I had never seen before and will never forget. We stopped on Jost for a few hours and then sailed back at sunset, with our eyes peeled on the horizon in search of the elusive green flash.
THE WEDDING CEREMONY
On wedding-day afternoon, the guests were picked up at Soper's Hole and transported by motorized dinghies to the pier at Little Thatch. It was a glorious Caribbean afternoon and the ceremony was everything that a small-island-tropical-beach-wedding could and should be. The weather was just right - an appropriate breeze, a little sun, a little cloud. The bride was bare-foot and beautiful, and the groom serious and handsome. Set against a theatrical background of startling white sand and vibrant blue sea, the simple ceremony couldn't have been more romantic. My daughter's extended family was all there. Alex's Mom, Margot, couldn't have looked prouder; my children, Gaby and Antony took part in the ceremony (Gaby was maid of honour and Antony, appropriately, recited the The Owl and the Pussycat). My wife Fanny looked on happily. I gave the bride away, one of my proudest moments. After the ceremony and photo ops, drinks were served, the banquet tables were laid on the beach, and we would have finished the day dining quietly under the stars, if only the rain hadn't started.
But that was just a temporary glitch. We moved the tables from their beneath-the-sky setting to the cozier beach pavilion and we enjoyed the food and wine for which Little Thatch has become justifiably famous. The Owl and the Pussycat probably had a pretty good wedding too. But when you come to think of it, not much planning was involved. They basically eloped, staged an impromptu ceremony with no invited guests, and the banquet was modest in the extreme:
"They dined on mince and slices of quince, Which they ate with a runcible spoon."
But in the final wedding scene, the owl and the pussycat finished their day in the same memorable way that Alex and Andy did. In perhaps the most romantic lines in all of English poetry - a wedding activity and a metaphor for a long happy married life:
"And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, They danced by the light of the moon, The moon,The moon, They danced by the light of the moon."
Matthew Gordon Gabelli was born in Guildford, England on June 23, 2006. His mom, Alexandra, took him to the British Virgin Islands for the first time in March of this year. He is now eight months old. Is it too soon for him to be making his own wedding plans?